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Entries in Ewan McGregor (6)

Thursday
Jan092014

August: Osage County

It must be tough being an actress in Hollywood knowing that no matter how hard you try and no matter how terrific your performance is, it will always be overshadowed by Meryl Streep. Streep, plainly put, is acting perfection. She never misses a beat and manages to give Oscar worthy performances year after year, even if the movie she’s in can’t live up to her talent. Take 2011’s “The Iron Lady” as an example, a film that was utterly wretched, but had a central Streep performance that was absolutely sublime. Only a year off will allow her competition to shine, but she shows no signs of slowing down after “August: Osage County” where she gives another breathtaking performance. The movie has some problems, but Streep (and the supporting cast) elevate it beyond its troublesome material. Expect Streep to soon be clutching yet another Oscar.

“August: Osage County” takes a look into a dysfunctional family that comes together after their father commits suicide. Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the oldest child of Violet (Streep), an overbearing painkiller junkie suffering from mouth cancer who takes her pain and anger out on those around her. Barbara is having marital issues with her husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor). Their daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), has become more standoffish now that she has reached her teenage years, though much of it could be due to the neglect from her parents. Barbara’s sister, Karen (Juliette Lewis), shows up with her new boyfriend, Steve (Dermot Mulroney), who eventually reveals his own sick perversions. Meanwhile, their other sister, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), has sparked a romantic relationship with another member of the family, Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), a timid fellow who is distraught after missing, or perhaps intentionally skipping, his uncle’s funeral.

And the list goes on. There are even more characters to discuss, each seemingly with something to hide, and their secrets are revealed at a deliberate pace. While some of it is truly surprising and meaningful within the context of the story, much of it is superfluous in nature, including the true (and rather disgusting) relationship between certain members of the family. In particular, the relationship between Charles and Ivy is left unresolved, eventually dropping before any real effect from their actions can resonate. With so many side stories packed into a mere two hours, the film finds itself at an inconsistent pace, unable to keep up with everything it has foolishly introduced.

Where the film hits its stride is in its more focused approach, generally from a bringing together of each family member into one place. One masterful, prolonged sequence around the dinner table exemplifies this well. The scene is uncomfortable, scary, traumatic and, given all the emotions on display, kind of heartbreaking. The dialogue flows naturally, but nevertheless comes quick. Appropriately, given the source material the movie is derived from, this scene is like a play come to life and it’s fantastic. It’s this scene that allows the talented cast to show their acting chops. Roberts gives what could be the rawest performance of her career and understated performances from the likes of veteran actors Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale give the scene real weight.

This scene is also where some of the film’s dark humor becomes most prominent, though it feels incongruous when coupled with such deep drama. While there are certainly some laughs to be had in “August: Osage County,” much of it falls flat, coming off as unnecessary and, due to the source material’s dramatic intentions, kind of mean. The movie does a good job of making you uncomfortable with its drama, as it should; it needn’t fall back on harsh humor to help.

The awkward family dynamic on display in “August: Osage County” is easy to relate to, as all of us have some type of dysfunction in our own families, but upon reflection, one can’t help but wonder what the point of it all was. The material doesn’t provide any real insight into anything in particular and so much of the story is left on the table that it doesn’t resonate. But, as with December’s “Out of the Furnace,” this is a case of the acting sustaining the structurally weak film. This is hands down the best ensemble of the year and with so many standout performances from both Streep (who the Academy should just give the Oscar to now and save themselves some time) and the cast around her, it makes it easily recommendable. But if you’re looking for insight, you won’t find it here.

August: Osage County receives 3.5/5

Friday
Mar012013

Jack the Giant Slayer

One question kept lingering in my mind as I watched Jack the Giant Slayer: how do the giants procreate? Aside from some physical abnormalities, they’re basically big people who sleep, eat and produce all the bodily fluids one would expect, yet they’re all male. Where are the women in this land of the clouds? Without them, do they reproduce asexually? If so, where are the (comparatively) little ones? If they aren’t able to procreate, are they immortal? Normally, a lack of answers would bother my obsessive compulsive brain, but in this case, they gave me something to think about while I was otherwise bored out of my mind. Jack the Giant Slayer is a lackluster production all around that features thin characters stuck in an even thinner story that stumbles along boorishly, never really building all that much excitement despite its titular promise of giant slaying.

Nicholas Hoult, who was so good in last month’s Warm Bodies, plays Jack. He’s a poor farm boy whose father told him stories of a mystical land full of giants when he was younger, which gave him hope to one day go on a grand adventure. Little did he know, however, that those stories were actually true and his adventure was going to mimic the stories he loved so much as a child. After making a deal with a monk, he finds himself in possession of some magical beans, one of which sprouts a giant beanstalk that soars to the sky and above the clouds. Unfortunately, this beanstalk takes his home with it, with the kingdom’s princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), inside. He, along with the king’s men, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and Crawe (Eddie Marsan), begins his ascent to rescue her.

It’s not unreasonable to expect a fantasy tale to have an imagination. Thinking outside the box is paramount to the genre’s success, but Jack the Giant Slayer is as bland as they come. This fantasy world in the clouds is severely lacking in the fantastical elements to make it come alive, aside from the actual giants, of course. The land is virtually no different than the one beneath them at the bottom of the beanstalk. There are grassy knolls, waterfalls, small ponds, forests and little else. Much of the film’s supposed appeal comes from the exploration of this land in the moments leading up to the confrontation, but, despite an abundance of CGI, there’s nothing particularly interesting to see.

More startling than its lack of imagination, however, is a narrative that is stretched so thin that it feels like two movies in one. After about an hour or so of wandering around and a moment or two of heroism, the film comes to a conclusion that one might expect the first part of a multi-part franchise to have. But then it starts again. It almost feels like the filmmakers shot the first half of the film, realized it wasn’t long enough to be justified as a feature length movie and expanded the story with the more action packed part two. Even more surprising is that when the film actually ends, it sets itself up for an actual sequel that could be set in modern day.

But making a sequel to an idea that wasn’t particularly interesting to begin with seems unlikely. Jack the Giant Slayer won’t be heavily panned, however. Some will see the charm in it, mostly due to a script that is a lot goofier than the trailers have led us to believe, complete with groan inducing puns. “He wouldn’t spill the beans,” one character says while trying to extract information on their whereabouts from that aforementioned monk. Although this goofiness will appeal to some, it’s a pandering type of goofiness, one that’s trying to trick viewers into thinking it’s amusing while simultaneously hiding its lackluster story. When you tack on a useless 3D that creates constant double vision and even further darkens some already visually dark scenes, as most films in the format do, you have something that simply doesn’t work. Director Bryan Singer is a talented guy who, unfortunately, seems to take more flack these days for the underrated Superman Returns than praise for his knockout X-Men movies and The Usual Suspects, but he failed to bring Jack to life.

Jack the Giant Slayer receives 1.5/5

Friday
Dec212012

The Impossible

It’s easy to dismiss movies these days as Oscar bait. In particular, it’s easy for critics to point out when a movie is manipulating you into feeling something rather than really earning it, but it’s not just the job of a critic to make those observations. It’s our job to realize when those manipulations work. In the case of The Impossible, they definitely do. Set during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that took the lives of more than 230,000 people, one can’t help but feel sadness for those who lost loved ones and those whose entire livelihoods were destroyed. Because there’s no tangible villain to direct your anger at, sadness is the only proper emotion to feel and the film, regardless of its manipulations, is powerful to watch. The Impossible is a somber, yet terrifying experience that absolutely must be seen.

It’s Christmas Day and a British family is on vacation at a beautiful resort in Thailand where the beaches are plentiful and the water is clear. It’s a tropical paradise that anybody would want to visit. They spend their holiday basking in the warm sun and enjoying each other’s company, but the following day, their relaxation is interrupted by a massive tsunami that separates them. The mother, Maria (Naomi Watts), and the oldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), find themselves stranded with seemingly nobody else around and Maria is severely injured. She won’t be able to go on long. The father, Henry (Ewan McGregor) and the two youngest sons, Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) are slightly more fortunate. None are harmed more than a few cuts and bruises; it’s their mental and emotional weaknesses that may get the best of them as they go on a search for Maria and Lucas.

Never before has nature been so terrifying. The tsunami as depicted in The Impossible is one of the scariest things I’ve seen all year. It’s expertly realized, beautifully rendered and it convincingly creates the illusion that you’re there experiencing the terrible event firsthand. Don’t be surprised if after watching this movie the sound of rushing water gets your heart pounding. Yet amidst the devastation—the ransacked villages, the floating corpses, the many objects being swept away under the strength of the flood—there’s a strange beauty to the proceedings. The film, after it terrifies you, warms your heart with a tale of altruism and bravery. Ultimately, The Impossible is about the triumph of the human spirit. Even when we’re battered, bruised and beaten, it’s the good in us that puts others before ourselves. Despite her desperate search for the rest of her family and her numerous wounds, some of which are life threatening, Maria gives aid to a small child who has become stuck under some tree branches brought on by the force of the storm.

This act of kindness works as both inspiration for Lucas to realize how important all life is, not just the lives of his family, and as a catalyst to set forth a chain of other acts of kindness. When they finally reach a nearby hospital, with the help of some other selfless souls, Lucas goes on a mission to find sons, daughters, mothers, husbands and more and reconnect them with their missing family. His actions don’t save lives, nor do they amount to much in the big scheme of things, but they mean so much to the people he’s doing them for that it feels big. Seemingly small moments of happiness and glimmers of hope begin to overcome that initial feeling of sadness that overwhelms so early on.

If you don’t see the light shining through the darkness, you’ll at least feel the pain the characters are going through. Much of their pain is visceral—you’ll cringe just as much as they scream out in agony—which is mainly due to a collection of wonderful performances that bring this tragic event to life. Watts and McGregor are terrific as usual, but it’s the kids who shine here, particularly Tom Holland in his first ever big screen role. His role is a heavy one that requires much of him, more than many child actors (or actors in general) would be able to handle, but he knocks it out of the park, showing a poise that veteran actors in their 40’s and 50’s would be jealous to have. He doesn’t hit a single false note here and gives one of the best, most powerfully moving performances of the year. Let’s hope the Oscar voters don’t overlook him simply because of his age.

The Impossible is a movie that wrecks you emotionally before lifting you up into a state of euphoria by showcasing people with bravery and selflessness befitting a platoon of soldiers. Its drama flows naturally, aside from some late movie contrivances like character near misses and timely coincidences, and it’s guaranteed to warm the heart. It instills in you a feeling that, regardless of whatever horrific act has occurred recently, the majority of people are good people and are fast to act to help others. Like some of the other best movies of the year, The Impossible is life affirming and dispels the cynicism behind the idea that humans care about themselves first and others second. In this movie, all life is seen as equal, as it should be.

The Impossible receives 4.5/5

Friday
Mar092012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I’m pretty sure Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the most boring movie title I’ve ever read. Going into it, you can’t help but hope it’s not one of those titles that’s spot on like Snakes on a Plane or Zombie Strippers. You hope it’s a metaphor for something else that is perhaps a bit interesting, but it’s not. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is, at its core, about salmon fishing in the Yemen, yet it’s not boring. It’s actually kind of heartfelt. It’s certainly no perfect movie and not good enough to be considered a surprising gem, but the performances are grand and its story is life-affirming. It won’t blow you away, but it’s worth a look.

The film follows Fred (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries expert who is approached one day by Harriet (Emily Blunt), a consultant whose boyfriend has just gone off to fight in the war. Along with a visionary Sheikh (Amr Waked), she wants to start a project that will bring the sport of fly fishing to the Afghanistan desert. To do this, they need a lot of money, manpower and even more luck, considering the area’s aridity is unfit for such a project. So with the backing of the British government that is looking to shed some positivity on foreign relations, they embark on a plan that only has a minor chance of success.

When taken as a whole, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is underwhelming. Looking back on it reveals many narrative problems and contrivances. But in the moment, individual scenes work brilliantly and it makes you feel good about what the people onscreen are trying to do. Despite its flaws, it’s inspirational to watch these people from all different backgrounds come together to work toward a common goal. Such diversity is absent in most films and although such a simple fact certainly doesn’t make this movie anything special, it’s worth noting all the same.

What Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does best is develop relationships. Although it does rely too heavily on soapy, feel good dramatic tricks at times, you come to care about everyone you’re watching. McGregor and Blunt, two terrific performers in their own right, craft a believable relationship that blossoms over time. At first, they’re at odds, Blunt ever the optimist that they can pull the project off and McGregor a cynical man who thinks it has no shot, but eventually they spur a friendship. McGregor’s character begins to find hope and passion for the project, which brings the two together in a sweet and charming way. Unfortunately, as is expected with nearly any movie these days, a man and woman can’t simply be friends and a romance sparks between the two. This is precisely where the film begins to go downhill, not only due to the fact that it’s not unlike every other movie romance you’ve ever seen, but also because this inevitably leads to forced drama late in the movie after a surprise plot twist involving Blunt’s boyfriend.

The events that transpire in the film are grounded and simple—this is not a fast paced movie, to be sure—except for perhaps a couple of remarkably silly moments, including one where Fred saves the Sheikh’s life by swinging his fishing reel towards an oncoming attacker and hooking him, forcing the gunshot to stray off course. It’s moments like these that make the film so hard to love. To hear that many didn’t like it much at all would even be understandable, but what can I say? It worked for me. It made me laugh, it moved me and it ended. In the end, that’s what we go to the movies for and despite its problems, that’s why Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is recommendable.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen receives 3.5/5

Friday
Dec102010

I Love You Phillip Morris

The road to release can be a long and grueling one for certain films. I Love You Phillip Morris can attest to it. While many factors contribute to the thought process of how and when a movie should be released, many believe the problem here came from the explicit homosexual content. Despite not having much of a problem finding a distributor in foreign countries, American distributors were hesitant to pick it up because homosexuality is still considered taboo and frowned upon (though it’s about time we all grow up and get over it). It’s a sad predicament because I Love You Phillip Morris is quite good. I don’t find myself bitter that I had to wait so long to see it—it’s no masterpiece—but now that I have, I’m glad I did.

Of course, the stated reason it took so long to find a distributor is purely speculative. In all honesty, I Love You Phillip Morris is a tough film to sell. It’s based on a true story of Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a church going man with a wife and a kid. He’s even a cop and has sworn it as his duty to protect the law. Except all of that is a lie. He is gay, he doesn’t seem to be all that religious and he’s a con man. One day, on his way back from a rendezvous with one of his lovers, he decides to come out to his wife and live the way he wants to, as an openly gay man. However, his illegal, conniving ways catch up with him and he is thrown in jail. While incarcerated, he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and falls in love.

While it may sound like your typical romance where two lovebirds meet under the unlikeliest of circumstances, it’s not and that’s why the marketing department has had such trouble with it. Its demographic isn’t clear. Its intended audience clearly isn’t conservatives, but to be fair, they aren’t the only ones that can feel uncomfortable with the subject matter. Its homosexual nature can irk even the most liberal of viewers. Older folks, set in their old ways, may find this morally wrong, while younger audiences are too immature to watch a movie about two people of the same sex falling in love. Is I Love You Phillip Morris for anybody?

I think so. It’s for the people who can look past the explicit male on male sex scenes and see the surprisingly sweet love story surrounding them. In that regard, I guess I’m the target audience. The lengths Steven goes to see Phillip, sometimes even putting his life in real danger, is something anybody who believes in love (of all kinds) can relate to.

Still, I Love You Phillip Morris is a bit uneven. It suffers from subplots that give a flimsy reason for the duo to have some money in a context that makes them feel extraneous to the main story and the latter half stumbles by giving us too much rather than keeping it simple. In what is essentially an overlong montage, Steven breaks out of multiple jails, which is meant to show how cunning he can be (and how strong his love is), but previous plot points (like when he fakes his way into a position as the CFO at a major company) have already done enough to get that point across.

With all this talk of love, I’d almost forgotten to mention this is a comedy more than anything else and a funny one at that. The laughs are sporadic, but the ones that work are hilarious. The climax of the movie at first feels out of place due to what seems like melodramatics, but when the incredible twist comes, you’ll feel like a fool for having jumped to that conclusion. This final satisfying cinematic sucker punch sends the film out with a bang. It’s clever, funny and, most of all, it makes sense. The habitually drab nature of Hollywood means we end up watching the same old song and dance over and over again. I Love You Phillip Morris breaks that trend.

I Love You Phillip Morris receives 3.5/5